In winters there is an old Finn on the mountain. For the past several winters he has appeared—I never see him in other seasons. It is on the coldest days that I see him, temperature 10 degrees or bellow not counting the wind chill.
I did not notice at first but he travels with his false teeth out, dressed in layers, wielding ski poles he moves up the more gently sloped assent. He moves well and whenever we speak in passing his wind is good. I grew up in the area and know an old Finn when I see one. He has to be in his early eighties, clear of eye and relatively loose of limb. Those old Scandinavians almost run forever, though they get pretty bent and wrinkled at the end.
Likely he has a plump red cheeked woman at home who still makes her own coffee bread. He has probably known her 60 years or more and in that time they have merged successfully. Love’s endgame.
About the fourth time I’d noticed him, he stopped me.
“You climb every day?” He wants to know. I had not noticed his lack of teeth before. It did not make him look feeble, or foolish.
“Whenever I can,” I reply.
“That’s good,” He says, meaning it and giving me a smile full of gums. Then he continued on his way, an old one who knew about movement and cold. After all these years he still had not become bored with either. A gnarly old man is something to be.
Then again, he could be one of the snow trolls my Swedish grandfather told me of in my youth. Something to think about. I am at an age where one can note such things—the mento memori of the in-between. I decide to ask him the next time I see him. He’s an old Finn and will understand.
Several weeks later I see him and ask him straight out.
“Snow troll,” he says annoyance twisting his face. “That’s Swedish crap.”
“My grandfather was Swedish, he told me about Snow trolls.” I say. He was my grandfather, of course I believe in the stories he told me in my youth. It was a magical world and he was a magical man.
“He was full of shit; the Finns don’t have snow trolls, Jesus dumb Swedes.” He pokes me with his pole and puts a hole in the sleeve of my fleece. He is one of those Finns with an inbred dislike of Swedes.
“That’s what he told me.”
“He was an ass. Now if you asked me about Snow Ghosts we could have talked,” he says. “Now get out of my way. You Swedes never get anything right.” He pokes at me again with his poles.
I dodge out of the way and watch the Snow Ghost move it down the mountain. I consider the general absurdity of life and move on. One expects a mountain climbing old man to be …more magical.